Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

Introduction and allegro for flute, clarinet, harp and string quartet

At  the turn of the twentieth century, two harp manufacturers waged a private little war. The firm of Pleyel had commissioned a work from Debussy (Danses sacrée et profane, 1904) to further sales of the newly invented chromatic harp. The Érard piano company, which supplied the Paris Conservatoire with harps and pianos, countered by requesting a work from Maurice Ravel to be written for the customary double-action harp. The resulting Introduction and Allegro was dedicated to M. A. Blondel, the director of the Érard company.

The work received its first performance on February 22, 1907, in Paris by the Cercle Musical, a group devoted to chamber music. The slow Introduction presents material to be used in the Allegro, alternating with themes of its own, in a series of colours and textures that show Ravel’s mastery of orchestration. The Allegro can be thought of as an exposition, development, and recapitulation. Whatever, the clear winner in the little harp war was the double-action harp!